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Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots Hardcover – November 22, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Richard Beeman, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution
“Thomas Kidd’s account of the life of Patrick Henry combines first-rate scholarship with a lively and elegant gift for story-telling.  It makes a powerful case for the Virginia orator’s pre-eminent role in the fight to limit central government power during the era of the Revolution and early republic.”

Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
“We’ve long needed this book, a fresh look at the life of Patrick Henry, the “forest-born Demosthenes” who became one of the most eminent of American patriots, and one of the greatest orators and phrasemakers of early American history. His historical reputation has suffered somewhat because of his opposition to the Constitution, but as Thomas Kidd shows in this vivid and lucid new biography, that judgment fails to do him justice. Indeed, his fears of the Constitution’s tendency toward consolidation and empire turned out to be well-founded, and the principal themes of his life, including his emphasis upon the cultivation of virtue and the protection of limited government, have never been more relevant. May this fine book lead to a long-overdue reconsideration of a great but neglected figure.”

Daniel L. Dreisbach, American University and author of Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State
“Few characters of the American Revolution are more celebrated and, yet, less understood than Patrick Henry.  In this vivid portrait of the firebrand orator, Thomas S. Kidd scrapes away the myths and misconceptions that have long obscured our understanding of Henry, revealing a patriot of uncommon conviction, vision, and, yes, contradictions.  This engaging biography offers rich insights into not only Henry’s controversial life but also the tumultuous age and fractured society in which he lived – a world turned upside down by the cruel institution of slavery, religious revivals and disestablishment, a bitter separation from Great Britain, and the creation of a new nation.”

Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame, and author of America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
“Patrick Henry is well known for crying ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ at a crucial moment in the struggle for American independence.  This well-researched biography shows that there was a great deal more to this strangely neglected founding father.  Thomas Kidd is especially compelling on why Henry’s life-long devotion to liberty could never move him to free his own slaves and why that same devotion led him to OPPPOSE the United States Constitution of 1787.  The book is accessible history at its best.”

“Kidd’s biography awakens us to the depths of Henry’s devotion to liberty and small government.”

Publishers Weekly
“[A] lively portrait...Kidd skillfully traces Henry’s rise from a young farm boy in Virginia to a political figure whose passionate support of liberty won him the friendship of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison.... Kidd’s passionate biography offers compelling new insights into the life of one of America’s most beloved figures.”

“An easily digestible tribute to an important and still-controversial American icon.”

History Book Club
“Although Patrick Henry is not a thick biography, it is a life and times biography. Thus Thomas Kidd usefully situates Henry in the larger fascinating issues of his time in a book that is a pleasure to read.”

Library Journal
“Kidd convincingly explains that the popul

About the Author

An Associate Professor of History at Baylor University, winner of a 2006–2007 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and author of numerous books on American religious history, Thomas S. Kidd lives in Waco, Texas.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1St Edition edition (November 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046500928X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465009282
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #519,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. For the most part, I found it to be very balanced and well done. There are some places where I felt like Prof. Kidd fell into some modern, politically-correct type analysis that I don't find all that helpful. For example, Prof. Kidd seems to occaisionally accept the prevailing "wisdom" that the American War for Independence was only about money and taxes. Much could be said on this, but it will suffice here to note that this requires us to ignore the words of the Declaration of Independence itself, which talks about a lot more than money. Were all of the Founders just liars who were only concerned about finances but clothed this little financial dispute with the motherland in grandiose language about liberty, freedom, and tyranny? I find such a proposition untenable, but I realize that makes me a distinct minority and probably disqalifies me from being an intellectual due to my audacity to take these people at their word. (Further, lest there be any misunderstanding, I think that economic freedom is enormously important. Right up there with religious and political freedom, as they all go hand-in-hand. Sort of like "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," which undoubtedly included the pursuit of property.)

However, overall, and with that said, I found the book well-written, historically accurate, fair, and engaging. As an example, he doesn't hid Henry's great talents as an orator, his devotion to the Christian faith, or his penchant for land speculation. He shows Henry as a man dedicated to freedom, and he fairly presents his opposition to the Constitution.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Patrick Henry was devoted to liberty, patriotism, and public moral virtue. These three threads are important to understanding his life and impact.

In First Among Patriots, Thomas Kidd examines the man known as the "Voice of the American Revolution." Most Americans know Henry only for his "Give me liberty" speech. Many, through history and in contemporary culture, try to claim him as a patron saint for their own political positions. Henry, however, is much more than any popular conception.

A native of what was then the "back-woods" region of Virginia, Henry achieved prominence as a lawyer and eventually as a representative in the colonial legislature. It was there that his oratorical skills would help rouse the nation to the cause of Independence. Considered a radical by some, a patriot by others, Henry would become a controversial figure in both Virginia and national politics.

He would serve as the state's war-time governor and repeatedly in the state legislature. His legendary oratorical skills were not matched by political aptitude, and he often grew impatient with extended deliberation. This was to his detriment - on more than one occasion, he would lose a battle he thought already won.

Henry's passion for liberty would rouse a nation to independence. His passion for limited government would pit him against the architects of the new American government. It was his role as a leader of the anti-Federalists, those who opposed the adoption of the Constitution, that earned him the animosity of many of the founding fathers and his former friends.

Kidd makes note of the influence of faith in Henry's life.
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Format: Hardcover
To be honest, I didn't know much about Patrick Henry before I read Thomas S. Kidd's biography of him. I knew--as all schoolboys should know--that he uttered the famous line, "give me liberty, or give me death." I also knew that his support for a general assessment for religion--taxpayer funded clergy support--in Virginia provoked James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance. And finally I knew that Henry, an anti-Federalist, opposed the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. I didn't know much else, and I didn't know how to connect what little knowledge I had of Henry into a consistent picture of the man.

The merits of Kidd's biography are that it filled out my knowledge of Patrick Henry's and explained why his political vision was more or less consistent. Kidd uses the term Christian republicanism to describe Henry's politics, which I might summarize as a faith-based practice of ordered liberty. Henry's belief in liberty explains his early advocacy of the cause of Independence, as well as his opposition to the Constitution, which he felt aggrandized the Federal government with too much power. His belief in order--not merely "law and order," but the kind of moral self-government that arises from religious practice--led him to support the general assessment for religion. This general assessment was denominationally non-specific: In other words, the taxpayer could direct his assessment to the church of his choice. Henry believed that such an assessment was necessary to the support of Christian churches, which he in turn felt were vital to the health of the American republic. Ironically, it is James Madison's view of religious disestablishment, not Henry's quasi-establishmentarianism, that has turned out to best promote the health of Christianity in America.
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